While not as old nor as popular as Nintendo’s Mario, the Italian plumber’s one-time rival, Sonic the Hedgehog, has held his own for well over 30 years. In fact, according to Sega’s latest annual report, no other franchise has had the impact on the Japanese publisher’s bottom line like Sonic has. Sega reported that Sonic has now delivered over 1.5 billion units (through a combination of traditional retail sales and both F2P and paid downloads) since the blue speedster made his debut in 1991 on the Sega Genesis. By comparison, lifetime sales of Sega’s second most successful franchise, Total War, stand at just a bit over 40 million units.
With the brand-new Sonic Frontiers now available and an animated Netflix series, Sonic Prime, arriving in December, Sega is making sure that Sonic is front-and-center across the entertainment landscape this holiday season. From a gaming standpoint, the publisher is looking to breathe new life into the storied franchise, opting for a more open landscape that initially had some comparing it to Nintendo’s Breath of the Wild (Sega was quick to refute that notion).
“This open zone format has never been done before,” Sonic Team head Takashi Iizuka commented. “We’re trying to look out there at other titles in the marketplace and we couldn’t find anything that had that linear platform action gameplay but in an open environment.”
Sonic’s popularity has also been helped by the two box office hits starring Jim Carrey as Dr. Robotnik. In fact, Sonic the Hedgehog 2 grossed over $400 million worldwide, earning a spot in 2022 as the tenth highest grossing film of the year. Sega of America and Paramount have already confirmed that a third entry in the film series is planned for 2024, while a Paramount+ spin-off series featuring Knuckles will stream in 2023.
Sega’s continued expansion of the Sonic franchise across the media landscape comes at just the right time, dovetailing nicely with the surge of interest from both streaming platforms and Hollywood studios in video game IP. Nintendo is working on a Super Mario Bros. movie with Illumination, Naughty Dog and Sony have teamed up with HBO Max for a series based on The Last of Us, and Bethesda is collaborating with Westworld’s Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy on an Amazon Prime Video series based on popular game franchise Fallout, to name just a few.
It appears that Sega’s push to elevate Sonic’s brand has been working. According to Interpret’s New Media Measure®, the franchise has enjoyed incremental gains in fanship since early 2020, rising from 27% of the general population self-identifying as a Sonic fan to 36% through the first half of 2022 – that’s a 33% jump in fanship over the past two years. If Sonic Frontiers and the Netflix series both do well this holiday season, those figures are likely to climb higher still.
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